Home MLS Montreal Impact All about the politics: QSF getting pressure from both sides on turban ban issue

All about the politics: QSF getting pressure from both sides on turban ban issue

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To speak about Quebec Soccer Federation’s turban ban as simply a turban ban is, well, yesterday’s news. The pressure on the Quebec Soccer Federation is coming from both sides.

The provincial premier, who leads the separatist Parti Quebecois, stated Tuesday that the Canadian Soccer Association had no right to suspend the QSF, and that the provincial soccer federation has the dominion over the provinces’s footballing affairs. Premier Pauline Marois said that the CSA should butt out. Sounds almost like a call for the QSF to willfully separate itself from the CSA.

On Monday, the CSA board voted to suspend the QSF, which two Sundays ago decided to uphold its band of turbans, patkas and keski on the fields of play in Quebec. The QSF ignored a CSA directive to lift the ban that was issued in April. Quebec is the only jurisdiction in Canada to ban the religious headgear.

But, on Tuesday, the powers with some real political capital in Quebec didn’t sound at all apologetic about the QSF’s decision to ignore the CSA. Marois gave the QSF a big slap on the back and gave the group a public endorsement.

And, Montreal Impact owner Joey Saputo, not a man known for political correctness, issued a statement that tried to placate people on the ban and don’t-ban sides. But he was clear that he thought the CSA’s decision to ban the QSF was too harsh a measure.

“Personally, I don’t think we should stop a child from playing soccer at the youth level because they wear a turban. However, I understand the decision made by the Quebec Soccer Federation based on a FIFA rule that allows for interpretation. Comments accusing the QSF of racism are misplaced in regards to the context with which the federation made its decision. The Canadian Soccer Association made a recommendation and did not officially state its position to provincial federations. Furthermore, the decision by the Canadian Soccer Association to suspend the QSF is exaggerated. All parties involved must find some common ground for the good of the sport.”

Saputo’s statement rings of political obfuscation. Let’s look at it again. “The Canadian Soccer Association made a recommendation and did not officially state its position to provincial federations.” Wow. That is splitting hairs. But that’s what happens when political positions are entrenched. Basically, the only real “interpretation” in the FIFA rules is up to the referee, not the associations. A referee can decide if something a player wears is dangerous, and that official has ultimate authority. That’s standard. But, otherwise, FIFA is fine with religious headwear.

How many kids are affected by this ban? We’re not talking thousands or millions. So, why is the QSF taking such a hard line over such a small segment of the province’s soccer-playing population? (We’ll see if that hard line continues after the QSF board meets on Tuesday night.) Could this be a case of the QSF taking what is really a powderkeg issue and using it as a power play?

To be clear, Quebec was not a supporter of CSA President Victor Montagliani when he made his presidency push. In politics, to create a stir, you take an emotional issue and use it to either distract from other issues OR as a launching pad for a platform. Think of it as a soccer version of the gun registry. In the most recent federal election, the Conservatives turned that into an easy-win issue, knowing that its policy was in lockstep with its grassroots. It couldn’t be hurt on the issue at all. But they got the other parties spending an inordinate amount of time talking about guns rather than the economy or their capacities to govern. It was a brilliant piece of campaigning, taking an emotional but safe issue to lead a platform — and distract their opponents at the same time.

One gets the feeling that this is what the QSF is doing with the turban issue. There are other grievances, but the turban is a good issue to get the veins popping out of people’s heads. But one thing is for sure. The QSF is getting pressure on both sides. The Parti Quebecois is telling it to stand firm, that it’s just fine if Quebec soccer becomes a nation-state.

The CSA is ordering the QSF to relent.

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